Marvel continues their push to dominate the box office with their newest release, Thor: The Dark World. Their first venture into Asgard led them to introduce Thor and give them the opportunity to assemble The Avengers, one of the ballsiest marketing movies ever done in the film industry. But the move worked out and The Avengers grossed a butt-load of money so we can expect The Dark World to lead up to something similar. Having enjoyed Thor and The Avengers as much as I did, I was looking forward to seeing The Dark World.
The wife and I made a trip to the theaters Sunday morning for the first IMAX 3D showing of the day. We've been making a habit of early Sunday shows since they tend to be a less annoying experience than the opening nights that we're used to. Two trailers into the movie, though, a manager came in to say that a bulb broke in the projector and as a result, they couldn't show the movie in 3D. To make up for it, we got free passes for a future movie. So even though I was disappointed at not seeing Thor: The Dark World in 3D, we basically got to see it for free so it's pretty much a wash. None of that has any bearing on my enjoyment of the film, mind you. I just wanted to tell my little anecdote.
The movie opens with Odin sentencing Loki to the dungeons of Asgard for his role in the Invasion of New York shown in The Avengers. Things quickly turn to Thor, deep in battle in the land of Vanaheim trying to quell an uprising. It's a quick scene that reminds audiences of the power Thor possesses. It also reintroduces most of Thor's entourage, the Warriors Three and Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander). Despite Thor's show of force, he remains the level-headed hero that he became by the end of the first movie. Just like Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark, Chris Hemsworth remains the perfect choice for Thor. Not only does he have the right physicality for the part but his deep and resonant voice is what you would expect to hear from the God of Thunder. Hemsworth proves himself to be competent with his emotion, showing his wild-eyed wonder at the life of Midgardians while able to switch to warrior mode in a beat.
One of the best things about the movie is that the supporting characters finally get some time in the spotlight. Thor's purpose was to introduce Thor, the main character and the guy Marvel was to add to The Avengers so it made sense that he would be that film's focus. But with that said and done, Thor: The Dark World allowed the filmmakers to get some play out of the background cast. We finally get the chance to see Odin (Anthony Hopkins) in action, not sleeping through nearly the entire film (as he literally did in the first). Thor's mother, Frigga (Rene Russo), gets to prove how much of a bad-ass she is and why Odin chose her as his wife. Not only that, but audiences learn that she has a name, a point that was sadly overlooked in Thor. Each of the Warriors Three, Fandral, Volstagg, and Hogun, all play pivotal roles in Thor's plans, as does Sif, who also adds a bit of discarded relationship drama. Even Heimdall (Idriss Elba) gets in on the action in a scene that was probably one of my favorites of the movie.
But it's more than just the Asgardians that get their fifteen minutes; Kat Dennings' Darcy plays a much larger role in the film than she did in the first. As a non-super powered character, though, she doesn't add all that much to the plot, but her role as the comic relief is much expanded and she does appear onscreen quite a bit more.
Thankfully, though, the biggest change was in the treatment of Jane Foster. I love Natalie Portman and feel she is a stellar actress but in Thor, she was stilted and two-dimensional. I don't blame that on Portman; her character was terribly written and seemed to be added only as a love interest for Thor, which is sad because Portman never came off as the star-struck, doe-eyed, fall-in-love-with-the-hunk kind of girl to me so seeing that in Thor was disappointing. However, Thor: The Dark World portrays Jane as a much more integral part of the story. More than integral, really. Necessary. Even with that, Jane manages to hold her own in a world full with hammer-wielding gods and immortal dark elves. She uses the powers that she has at her disposal, the knowledge of science, to help the hero in his time of need.
Thor's enemies this go-around are an ancient race of beings known as dark elves and their leader, Malekith. The concept designs of the dark elves was great and I loved the expressionless masks they wore in battle, which added the right amount of creepy. (Seriously, I hope those masks become commercially available by next Halloween.) Malekith proved to be an extraordinary villain. Played by the ninth Doctor Who, Christopher Eccleston, I was really looking forward to seeing him in action and Eccleston did a great job with the character. But as far as the bad guys go, Kurse was amazing. Kurse was spectacularly designed, shown as a large, imposing beast. I'm glad the filmmakers chose to use practical makeup effects for him and not CGI as it added a lot to his presence onscreen. It made the danger feel more real and probably helped to get the right emotion from the other actors.
Tom Hiddleston has done wonders as Loki, capturing the hearts of millions of women worldwide, which is great as it only helps to increase the box office draw. The adoration is well deserved as Hiddleston does bring a lot of gravitas to the character. He and Hemsworth play well off each other, such as their bickering while trying to pilot an enemy ship. But more than that, Hiddleston brings out the smarmy, duplicitous nature of Loki, playing the two-faced son of a bitch that you just can't help but to like. I wouldn't say that Hiddleston was the highest point of Thor: The Dark World, but he was damn close.
A standard of the Marvel films, The Dark World's mid-credits scene helped set up a future film. Given the content of this scene, though, I really can't tell which movie it's setting up. The next Marvel film is Captain America: The Winter Soldier but based on what I know of that story, I don't think it ties to what happened in Thor: The Dark World. It may be that Marvel is thinking more than one move ahead and is setting up something even further down the line. But regardless of when the payoff hits, it's going to be frigging epic.
When people say they were disappointed by Iron Man 2 or Iron Man 3, I really find it hard to argue with them. I liked both movies but I can definitely see their flaws. However, I would have to question someone's tastes if they came away from Thor: The Dark World and said that it didn't compare to the first. Thor was a good movie; not quite the best of the Marvel: Phase 1 films but definitely a great introduction to the character and world of Thor. The Dark World, on the other hand, has a lot of what the first film was missing and I would say that it easily surpasses its predecessor.